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Driving you mad

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It used to be a thing. Choosing music for a road trip. Getting the right CDs into your glove compartment. The optimal mix of rhythmic reggae and energizing rock, soothing trance and jittery kwaito. As everyone knows, you have to pace your beats on the road, with lulls and highs to make the journey safe and to keep you awake during those long Karoo stretches.

Of course, if you asked me now what music I take on a road trip, the answer would be easy. My iPod. Also – what the hell is a glove compartment? Mind you, thanks to those awful budget airlines, we don’t do as many road trips, unless you count the unfortunate suckers who have to commute every day in Johannesburg. But that’s not really a road trip, that’s more an endless journey through hell.

So life has gotten easier for people hitting the road, that’s for sure. But alas, there’s a downside. And the downside is that life has got easier for people hitting the road. Everybody has a cell phone crammed with crap music now, and they really think they’re reaching out and doing you a favour by unplugging your iPod and jacking in their phone. I’m sorry, Beyonce and Rihanna do not not belong on a road trip, and possibly not even in a recording studio. Neither does early Sonic Youth, anything by Dozi, and any song from a cd that has a number in the title. Except Led Zeppelin IV, obviously.
Jay-Z and Kanye are perfect, but Drake will make you malevolently aim for the tortoises trying to cross the road. Arno Carstens is good, as is Van Coke Kartel, or The Brother Moves On. Just don’t try and put on Coldplay or Flash Republic! Don’t force me to take the glove out of the compartment!

Jack Kerouac, the famous Deadbeat Poet, and writer of the seminal text on yearning and motion, On The Road, had it easy when he wandered the highways of America. His music was basically in his head, except for crackling radio stations, and possibly an 8-track cassette or whatever they were called. Now most of us have downloaded our minds to our mobiles, and are way too ready to display their sorry contents.

There are other severe breaches of road tripping etiquette. The guy who arrives with a pot plant that he can’t risk leaving behind on his balcony because his flatmate won’t water it (this actually happened to me). The person who packed her own lunch of watercress sandwiches “so we don’t have to stop at one of those awful Wimpys “. Fool! Half the point of a road trip is the pleasure of a Wimpy burger! There’s nothing better than consuming hundreds of empty calories and oodles of delicious fat, and then working it off by sitting still for 3 hours.  It’s like the fast food is your sacrament, the car is the cathedral, and the road is the act of worship.  See? You couldn’t come up with this quality gibberish if you were eating watercress sandwiches!

Also a no-no are passengers who think that transcendental landscapes and the mesmerizing susurration of rubber on tar are an excuse to tell you their life stories. Dude, I don’t want to know about your struggle to overcome incontinence as a teenager, or how your girlfriend left you because of that thing you asked her to do with the sardine and the picture of Lindiwe Mazibuko. And I really, really don’t want to sit next to you for another thousand kilometers now that I do know.  And that’s the other great thing about choosing your own music for a road trip. You can make damn sure you have enough Kobus to drown out unwanted conversation.

Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisroper

First published in Obrigado magazine.

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